Tuesday, November 25, 2008

butta woman

about two weeks ago at our first grade planning day we decided that it would be fun to have a thanksgiving switch day where the classes rotate between all the teachers to do different holiday-themed activities. we do this every year. and every year when it's over, we wonder if we'll ever do it again. we may have agreed to this only because we planned this on a planning day when we gorging ourselves on sugar and relaxing among ourselves.

regardless, i suckered my fabulous co-teacher and another great team member into agreeing to "make" butter. this is one of my all-time favorite activities to do with first graders. i love asking them where butter comes from. you get all kinds of answers- corn, bee hive, trees, the ground, horses- were some of today's.

then you get to watch their amazed faces as you turn a liquid into a solid before their very eyes. and then they get to eat the ridiculously thick and creamy heavy whipping cream.

the entire first grade rotated through our butter station today (i am exhausted). at lunch and at the end of the day as i walked down the hallway i heard children call out 'look, it's the butta woman'.

problem solving

last night my husband returned home to find me yet again ranting about parents who hit their children with belts. he entered the house and i turned from cooking dinner to waving my cooking spoon in the air and shouting. the cat, who had been happily sitting at my feet by the stove, ran off and cowered in fear under the living room chair.

after listening for a bit and trying to keep an amused smile off his face (i imagine i really did look like a crazy person) he had a suggestion.

"has it ever occurred to you?" he asked, "that perhaps the solution is for you and your fabulous co-teacher to break into their houses at night and just steal all their belts?"

while this justified being whacked in the head with a kitchen spoon, i've been smiling all night and all morning from the image of me and my co-teacher dressed in black, scaling the side of the brick apartment buildings, stealing all their belts like the grinch stole stockings on christmas eve. avengers of the children. perhaps my husband is on to something. i mean, my co-teacher and i are awesome.

Friday, November 21, 2008

the perfect storm

today was pure chaos, no organization about it.

picture this: friday after an already long week. the first week it's been so cold the kids can't go play outside. a week that brought the first snow flurries of the season. a week that began with three days of substitutes in one of my classes. it's pajama day, our principal is out of the building and we have two different sets of visitors at our school. the last 3 days children have lined the hallway in the office. i personally have been behaving like ms. viola swamp. teachers and children are cranky. construction workers have decided today will be a great day to work in the first grade hallway.

and so it began.

time, 7:40- setting, book club for my old students:
my smart cookie and her sister went into great detail about how they chase each other with old pet needles at their house. this disturbing conversation was followed by "hey, mrs. lipstick, you know, our mom is a pet sitter. she could totally watch your cat over thanksgiving"
yeah. no.

time, 8:10, setting, hallway:
my co-teacher and i were chatting about a lesson for today when we heard quite the scuffle out in the hallway as the kids began descending on our wing. an investigation showed that the contractors who had been working in our hallway that morning decided not to put away their ladders or remove the large wires hanging from the ceiling as the kids came barreling down the hallway. we spent the next 10 minutes body blocking kindergartners from swinging on the wires or climbing up the ladders while the construction workers merrily went about their business. this thrilled my bff who took one look at the ladders and wires in the hallway and turned right back around saying, "OH NO" as he ran the other way. i should have followed his lead and gone home right then.

you'd think they'd quickly finish up and leave but when i returned back to the hallway after a meeting i found their tools sitting out, unattended.
tools as in saws.
which they left unattended.
in a first grade/kindergarten hallway.
i kindly explained to them that 6 year olds really like shiny things. and 6 year olds can't see something without first touching it and then waving it in the air. this image of six year olds out of control with saws didn't seem to bother the construction workers as much as it bothered me. i later heard many people from our office yelling at them yet this still didn't change the fact that they'd leave for extended periods of time with multiple saws just sitting in our hallway.

time, 12:30, setting, first grade literacy block:
after reading groups i looked up just in time to catch one of my kiddos attacking the other with a marker. off to the thinking spot with her- where she promptly lay down and kicked her feet back in the air like she was at home watching tv. my co-teacher went over to talk to her and sent her back to the carpet. yet halfway to the carpet the little one changed her mind about following directions and turned back around to get water. my co-teacher told her she wasn't allowed so she placed her head against my teacher's stomach and proceeded to attempt to head butt her way to the water fountain. now, this little girl is the size of my pinky so i feel the words 'head butt' are strong, but i can't think of another way to describe it. nor can i understand what was going through this little one's mind as she did this to her teacher.

so she was off to a thinking spot in another teacher's classroom to draw a picture of what she did and what she'll do better next time.

i returned to the classroom where my bff was waiting for me, indignant. "how dare you take her?" he cried. "where is she? i want her back" and just to prove he meant it he threw a paper. we've taken the line with him that if he throws things he has to go to the thinking spot- so off he went. "i want to go with her!" he cried from the thinking spot, and, being as brilliant as my bff is, decided to throw anything he could reach so that i'd get angry with him and send him to the other classroom with the little girl.

after removing everything in his surrounding area so that he could no longer throw anything i popped back to check on our first little friend to see how she was coming with her paper. i was impressed with the elaborate drawing and asked her to explain it to me. "that's you" she said. "stealing my gold"
"you're stealing my gold"
"why would i steal your gold?"
"because you like to steal gold. see, here's you with the gold, and there's the store and there's me."
"and what do you have?"
"a vacuum"
"a vacuum?" i had to ask.
"why do you have a vacuum"
"it was dirty. i had to clean."

so i hauled her into an empty classroom and asked if she knew what "being in trouble" meant. she nodded.
"do you know you are in trouble right now?" i asked
"me? why?"

i was much more direct this time.

we roll played listening to the teacher. so back she went to make another drawing. (this time i drew in her teacher and she just had to draw herself- doing the right thing)

time, 2pm, setting, the hallway-
by 2pm i thought nothing more could happen since it was almost the end of the day. silly me, i returned to the hallway where it had all begun just a few hours ago. as my bff's classroom came around the corner a teacher caught my bff with his hands around another kiddo's neck. i pulled him over to the side of the hallway to try to explain why this was not ok behavior when he reached up and put his hands around my neck. now it wasn't hard and i don't think it was out of violence- i don't even think he knew what he was doing (don't worry, we'll address this much more on monday) but his whole class saw this and GASPED. later, out at kiss and ride kids kept running up to me, "were you strangled?" they asked, "so-and-so said you were strangled."

perhaps, if i was strangled, i might have an excuse to not coming into school on monday. of course, i did return to school the monday after the hand-sanitizer-in-the-diet-coke-incident so i don't suppose i could get away with not going in now.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

kindergarten thankfulness.

these were unprompted while others were saying they were thankful for their cars, their moms, their friends, and their toys. we had three of these, and another kindergarten teacher had one as well.

note the spelling: obrarakobama. that's the white house in the background.

this little one said she was thankful for the president. after she added the pictures we learned she was confused. we decided not to explain the 'president-elect' title.

humpty dumpty's revenge

i think i may have nightmares after today's writing workshop.

salt in the wound

yesterday was just off. as though the cosmos were conspiring against us. i woke up to a microwave, dishwasher, and refrigerator that just decided to stop working. the fridge has been threatening this for awhile and yesterday it seemed to make its final decision. (the freezer is still working however. we're perplexed)
somehow i managed to leave the house without my house keys and from that point on bumbled through the rest of the day with the same pattern of behavior from myself. something was just off.

and then, one of my kiddos, who i've worked closely with for two years now, looked at me and said, "mrs lipstick, i don't like your shoes".

ok, i don't like that pair of shoes either. their old and scuffed and kind of look like the shoes the witch of the east was wearing when the house fell on her. but i had my reasons for putting them on yesterday morning, as sad as they were.

"that makes me sad, what's wrong with my shoes?"

"mmmmmm...... you need new ones, like me." and he showed me his shoes from the A store again.

yes! i wanted to cry! i need new shoes! but sadly, now i'm a grown up and have to worry about my refrigerator, and my dishwasher, and my microwave, and how all the food in my fridge is going to go bad and now i'll have to buy all new food, and how the water faucet to turn the outside water off is stuck and we can't turn it and now our pipes will burst and we'll be out tons of money. why, why did we buy a house? why can't we just call our landlord's handyman and ask him to fix it? he was so nice and cheerful and best of all we didn't get the bill. yes, i need new shoes!! but i'm stuck with these old witch-like shoes.

thanks for rubbing salt in the wound.

i'm sure on any other day i wouldn't have been impacted so much by his innocent words. he didn't really mean anything. perhaps he just wanted to show me his A shoes again. still.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


i cleaned my engagement ring for maybe the first time since i got married. it must have been really, really dirty because all of a sudden all of the kids are noticing it.

one little boy grabbed my hand today and said, "what does this mean?"
"it means i'm married."
"ahhh" he said knowlingly. "are you a princess?"

Sunday, November 16, 2008

we are awesome

they say a good co-teaching relationship is like a good marriage. sometimes i think my co-teacher and i are more like brilliant business partners destined to earn millions- our brains together sometimes come up with fantastic ideas.

one of our little ones occasionally never wants to leave the classroom when the class goes to specials. we've tried everything- ignoring her, forcing her (this doesn't go well), carrying her, getting an administrator, etc. everything is a battle. once she gets to the special she's fine, it's just getting her out of the classroom to actually get there.

so, last monday when she refused to go i felt like pulling my hair out. i was stuck- what to do- this habit has got to stop. i stood outside of the classroom where i could see her but she couldn't see me. when my co-teacher got back from dropping the rest of the class off we stood outside the door- trapped between not wanting to give her the attention she wanted and not being able to go into the classroom to get work done.

and then, we had an idea. we're using an fm sound system for our teacher research project. because it's an old school fm system and not the new, fancy infra-red system it will transmit when you are outside of the room as long as you are close enough to the transmitter. which means you have to remember to turn it off when you go to the bathroom or the class may hear everything. or, it means that you can talk to someone from outside the room and they can't see you, or talk back.

we got a teacher whose voice would not be recognizable and asked her to talk into the mike, telling this little one that staying in the classroom was not ok, she had to go to music. and that she had to leave the classroom by the time she counted to five.

the little one, laying on the carpet in the room sat up when the speaker called her name but she couldn't see who was talking to her. then, when it seemed some god was telling her to leave the classroom she slowly got up. by '5' her little nose poked out of the door frame. we immediately grabbed her and said, "good choice!" and pulled her off to music as though some mysterious voice had not just asked her to leave the room.

it may never work again, but i have to say it was incredible to see her little face come out of the room, wondering if god had been directing her to go to music. because so much of her actions are for attention this took away the human interaction part. she earned time with an adult once she left the room, but from inside the room she could only hear a voice.

sometimes i find teaching special ed is all about the creativity. you find something that works, do it until it doesn't work, and then find something else, even more creative.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

testing my smart cookie

i got to administer the practice state standardized test to my smart cookie (aka clementine) this week. although i hate being pulled from my case load to test, i was thrilled to get one-on-one time with msc.
her brilliant classroom teacher had suggested to her mother that she be able to sit on a work-out ball instead of a chair in class. (brilliant!! i wish we'd done that in 1st grade.) as we left the room her teacher reminded her to "carry it like furniture". my smart cookie looked at me with an evil twinkle eye and smirked, yeah, but i threw a chair once.

yeah, i know. i replied. i was there. it was my chair, remember?

oh yeah.
~~ ~~ ~~
i adore this little girl and really enjoyed getting to see her thinking on the standardized test. it gave me insight in general into how 3rd graders do on these kinds of tests. part of her fully believed the numbers were "speaking to her" and that she could guess the right answer by just staring at the answers hard enough.
on some questions she'd become so distracted by the names used in the examples, or even just the way the test makers laid out the page that she'd totally forget the purpose of what she was trying to do.
today on the reading test i couldn't stop smiling because she couldn't read the passages without giving her running commentary on them. this kid remembers so much about everything so every nonfiction passage lead to her informing me about the science behind it. i was fascinated about where she learned the information, but just kept nodding since i couldn't interact with her beyond the test instructions. and of course, out of nowhere she'd fill me on on details of her life.
"done with number two. so, mrs. lipstick. did i tell you my hamster passed away?"
"tell me when you're finished with your test, msc"
middle of reading next passage
"so, did you know that if you cut your cat's tongue out it wouldn't be able to purr anymore?"
"can we talk about this-"
"oh yeah. later"
back to work.
"hey, did you hear that?"
hear what?
loud fart.

see why she gets small group testing?

i love this kid.

teachable moment

one of my fantastic co-teachers has been out of the building quite a bit recently for different reasons so her students have had a lot of different subs. they've gotten quite savvy at how to work with these subs as well. last thursday we were all out of the building to see katie wood ray speak and throughout the day i got emails from teachers and administrators in the building about what craziness was going on in the room. when we returned on friday it turned out her class had been horrid to the sub. they managed to get almost an hour of recess, destroyed the room, and even broke a rocking chair. (the chair was on its last leg, but regardless, they broke it).

so, on friday, since the classroom teacher was not going to be back in until tuesday, i read them the riot act in the morning. i put on my very best viola-swamp face, channelled the scariest teacher i ever had, and we had quite a meeting. i told them they had to figure out what to do to make up for the horrors of the day before. we're a responsive classroom school and follow the idea of 'logical consequences'. so i told them to spend the morning thinking about how we could 'fix' this. the reading coach and i took turns checking in on them every 15 minutes to make sure they were still behaving. i'd hear them whisper "it's mrs lipstick" when i walked in the door and suddenly they were silent with their hands in their lap. i mean, i was scary.

so after spending the morning making them wish they could crawl inside a hole in the floor we started the afternoon with another meeting. we, while still being firm, told them it was time to start fixing it. being sorry didn't make anything better. so, come up with a plan.

we brainstormed a list of what we could do: fix her rocking chair, clean the room, be super nice to her, listen, etc. i loved their ideas about fixing the rocking chair. they really thought about it. some suggested tape, and a debate began over whether we tape it on the bottom, on the top, or both, or if that would make the chair sticky. one little girl said she would learn how to weave. a boy in the back mentioned that in kindergarten they learned to weave in art class (you know with those construction paper place mats) so maybe their art teacher could teach them how to weave with yarn and fix the chair.
i love the logical thinking we pushed with them. they had to explain what they were thinking and really problem solve. everyone became invested in the outcome.
so then we wrote a letter to the classroom teacher, apologizing but also including our plan of how to fix it. (we decided to give her options on how we'd fix it, and then let her choose since it was her chair. really, so i wasn't stuck watching them try to fix a chair with tape only to have the logical consequences lesson ruined when we ruined the chair).

we put a lot of literacy into writing the letter. we focused on the sounds within words, made them tell us where the punctuation would go, etc.
the lesson ended up going over 2 days. on monday we finished our letter by adding our new class plan for how we would follow the rules, listen to the teacher, etc. all of this from their own ideas.

in the end i felt like we took the horrible day on thursday and really changed it for the best. we built community, reviewed our rules in a positive, student-generated way, worked on literacy skills in a meaningful activity, and gave them a great problem-solving experience. instead of feeling guilty and worthless when their teacher came back, the kids felt proud of their problem solving and felt like they had ownership over the problem.

now, she was out today for our team planning and she'll be out monday-wed next week for a conference (she's that awesome) so we'll have to see if i can keep them in line until she gets back. it worked once, who knows if it will work again. i may need to invest in some more black-viola-swamp-like clothing.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

new perspective

today at jumpers i watched one jumper who was one of my first grade students two years ago. i enjoyed having her as a student but the work was too easy for her and she developed quite an attitude. i never saw her try very hard at anything because she just didn't have to. i see her every friday at book club and although i love catching up with her i've never seen a hint of anything but a smart kid who goes easily through life.
i was excited when she made the team, but a little worried. we realized we didn't have any 3rd graders and so we looked through who was the best out of 3rd grade. so while she has tons of promise we knew that if we put her and the one other 3rd grader on the team they'd have a hard year ahead of her. we've seen kids have a difficult year jumping in 3rd grade but be the stars of the team in 5th. we know they can do it, they just have to want it. i wasn't sure how this little one would react to working so hard.
but i watched her today as we pushed through learning a new routine. it was only our 3rd practice and due to certain circumstances we are pushing a new routine on them faster than we normally would.
i was blown away watching her. she's not good~ in fact, she may be struggling more than anyone else. but she is determined. her eyes are on the coach- her feet are moving and she's trying. and at one point i saw her screw her face up into a determined scowl- not a 'i can't do this' look, but an 'i'm going to do this if it kills me' look. at the end of practice she went to the back of the gym and practiced the routine silently, by herself.
my heart glowed as i saw her in a completely new light. i've always known she was smart, but today she showed me that she's a fighter. she is going to work hard- at something she's not very good at. in fact, for the first time in her life she may be 'not naturally good' at something. i've seen a lot of kids crumple in that first 'this is hard' experience. but she didn't.
with those brains and that kind of determination she's going to go far in life. until today i didn't know what she had in her. here's to new perspectives.

Monday, November 10, 2008

it's the economy stupid

the current economy sucks for most of us, even if it only involves watching our 401ks crash, or the value on our recently-purchased house drop. when i'm complaining about it in these ways i think i forget how much it actually impacts the lives of my kiddos.

i had trouble setting up two different parent meetings today- one was a no-show parent for a meeting scheduled for today (i was even all decked out in my most professional attire) another was canceling on a meeting scheduled in a few weeks. both parents explained that they didn't feel comfortable taking off work right now. their bosses are currently laying people off and they know they can't take off or it could give their boss a reason to fire them. these are both essential, must-have-meetings that we needed to do by yesterday. but the desperation in these parents' voices rings true. how we can expect them to take off yet again when it could mean they are fired? being able to feed their family is more important than meeting with us, despite how inconvenient it is to us. we're so frustrated with the situation. we HAVE to have these meetings. we need these parents to know what is going on at school. and all of these meetings involve a lot of professionals- not a meeting you can have as a "drive by" at their house.

so much has made this year more stressful than we expected, and i feel like it can all be tracked back to the economy. our parents are losing jobs, losing houses, and feeling stressed which, sadly, leads them to beat their children. education is not essential to anyone but those of us trying to make ayp. and how do we argue that our priority is more important than theirs?

confused goodbyes

friday was the recess queen's last day with us. he will be attending another school that will be able to meet his needs better than we can.

the first time someone mentioned an alternative placement my co teacher and i felt like someone had thrown water on us. what? things aren't that bad, are they? and then slowly we realized that yes, they were. the more we sat with the situation the more we understood it was the best thing for him, but it didn't make it much easier. having to look his mom in the eye and explain that we don't feel we can do anything more for her son- that he'll be better off somewhere else. he's only a kindergartner. we only knew him for 12 weeks. that's a big thing to say to a mom whose never heard anything like this before. 12 weeks ago she had never heard anything about her kiddo that would remotely explain our decision.

yet we knew it was the right thing. when the class announced they weren't scared of bears because they knew he'd protect us since he's so good at fighting. when parents wanted to know what happened to their kid. when students stiffen when he walks over to them. we couldn't guarantee any one's safety in our room. even with 4 adults in there incidents still happened. the kids knew that.

on friday when we began to put together his things for him to take with him some of the kids overheard us. two of them gave him the drawings they'd been working on. he stared at those drawings and whispered, "is this for me?" for the next 20 minutes until he left for the day he clutched those pieces of paper. it was one of the first times we'd seen him connect with others like this. as we gathered on the rug to say goodbye one of our little ones announced, "goodbye recess queen! don't forget to be a good citizen!"

i love how the class, despite their fear, have embraced him as a part of our community. i love this kindergarten class and i'm hoping that if we can restructure they'll start to relax knowing some one's not going to come up behind them and throw them down for no reason.

today will be strange though without him. i don't think we'll ever get past the question of 'what happened to get to this point? what could we have done better?'

Sunday, November 9, 2008


this morning's metro section of the washington post has an article about the violence in a dc middle school. on first read i found myself clutching my coffee cup in horror and thinking, wow, this makes me believe in the voucher program.
except that, sure, parents should have the right to take their kids out of that school, but that doesn't solve the problem. that doesn't mean your neighbors' kids aren't going to be stuck at that school, learning to defend themselves from violence, and bringing their new knowledge back to your neighborhood. even if i got my 14 year old out of that school, i'd want to know my neighbor's 14 year old wasn't going to come home with a gun one day. we can't hand out vouchers and then close our eyes to the problem of why the vouchers were needed in the first place.
part of the problem, the article says, is that another school was closed for low attendance and was combined with this middle school. at first i believed in the closure of the small schools for financial reasons. dc needs to make the best financial choices they can. but small schools promote community and safety, particularly in middle school when children are beginning to go through the teenage angst stage of life. when you know all the teachers and recognize most of the students you are less likely to be lost in the shuffle. you know you can't get away wtih as much as you'd like to.
the school in the article has also been "restructured" under nclb, but it sounds as though the restructuring has created more problems than it solved. putting in place "good on paper" administrators seems like a great choice, but this school needs an administrator who can deal with angry parents and angry teenagers. i'm not sure there is much at wharton business school, or even in some admin masters programs that prepares administrators for this kind of violence. you need administrators who can guarantee a safe learning environment. period. test scores mean nothing if your students do not feel safe to learn.
my junior high was fairly violent my first year there. i learned my own subtle version of 'self defense'. my friends and i would carry our violins around with us every day to have something to "accidentally" hit people with if they tried to mess with us. without it i remember being picked up by a large 9th grader and 'tossed' across the hallway. we learned to keep use our instruments to keep a 'bubble' around us so someone couldn't come up behind us and yank us down by our book bags. so yes, good kids can go wrong at a bad school. safety first.
luckily there wasn't violence in our classrooms and i was still able to learn. but no one can learn when they are worried about being hit by marbles in the back of the head. when you are worried about being attacked your blood pressure goes up, your muscles become tense, and your body moves to being on-alert. your brain is not available for learning- it's ready to protect you- it is not going to let you relax and process new information. without a guarantee of safety for students all the good teaching strategies in the world are not going to get through.

my suggestions for dc schools (so that we no longer need vouchers):
-smaller schools, lower teacher/student ratios, administrators who know their communities. make parents feel welcome, let every student know you know their name.
-experienced teachers (offer 'em high pay and steal 'em from the fabulous counties around dc- montgomery, arlington, fairfax. take all their good training and experience with classroom management. then acknowledge that these schools are different- give even these experienced teachers support with classroom management. keep class sizes low. higher less teach for america students, or, give them tons of support. they have no classroom experience, or classroom management experience. good intentions are wonderful, but they are not making our students safer)
-have enough admins per school so they know each student and each parent. admins should be attending parent conferences when needed to prevent attacks and to make the parents feel like someone cares. at my school i know i can call an admin to come sit at a parent conference if i feel the conference may go south (and i'm not worried about being choked). i trust my admin to not turn the meeting around on me (i'm not sure dc teachers feel this way about their admins- particularly after the restructured admins are put in place). i know my admin will "have my back" while helping me build trust with the parent.

the article reminded me that we can live with our pie-in-the-sky dreams for what good teaching is, but without safety nothing is going to happen.
eek... ranting is about to make me late for church. oops.

Friday, November 7, 2008

more fun

we've had some trouble with a little one in one of my first grade classes not coming in on time from recess. when pressed about why she hasn't come in with the class she honestly told her teacher, "i wanted to have more fun" you have to give her credit for honesty. she is about 2 feet tall and the tiniest thing you've ever seen, so when you first meet her you immediately underestimate her. (she is the little one who last week told me "i don't know why you want people to vote for duck for president. you know people are just going to vote for charlie brown") She was also a part of my lunch bunch last year.

yesterday most of the school was out of the building for katie wood ray (hooray!!!) and there were substitutes everywhere. somehow the substitute in this particular first grade class forgot to pick them up from recess. the only reason anyone realized this was that our little friend brought herself in with another class. she's been getting in trouble so much for not coming in with her class that she decided that she'd better go ahead and come in with any class. it never occurred to her that the kids she was walking in with were not in her class. apparently she was really surprised when she realized this.

we joke all the time about how she is smarter than we give her credit for, but that... i don't know. i wonder if she's just using her attitude to cover up the fact she gets confused and forgetful. still, i give her major credit from bringing herself in from recess. the other child in the class who also knew when the recess time was up was, of course, my bff. he kept our clinic aid company until she went crazy and started asking where the class was. i don't think anyone ever figured out where the substitute was. oh well.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


outside of election-madness today was not without incident:

on our walk through the woods on kindergarten fall fun day one of my kiddos became very concerned about bears.

"don't worry!" the kid behind him announced. "if there is a bear the recess queen will get him!"

"yah" another girl chimed in, "he's such a good fighter!"

while i think they are terrified of him most of the time, at least they found something positive about his fighting ability. go classroom community!

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~

at the end of the day one of my kiddos had been in the bathroom a LONG time. so i went to see what was wrong and he explained to me in his limited speech that he was waiting for someone to come wipe him.
now how do you write a note home to mom saying, "just a quick note to say r. had a great day today, but hasn't seemed to learn how to wipe himself. can you practice this at home for homework?"

goose bumps

today was a whirlwind of a day. i'm not sure anyone i work with got much sleep, and it turns out the kids didn't get much sleep either. the kindergartners came in excitedly talking about how this bark brama, or barack baracka, or backabackabacka guy won. one explained to me in an excited, rushed voice, how he'd had a slumber party with his family last night so they could stay up and watch the speeches. (for the record, i couldn't stay up that late, and at first i couldn't believe their parents let them stay up. but then again, if you came to this country for hope and a better life, well, this election is probably more meaningful to you than i can possibly understand).

i got goosebumps listening to a table packed of kindergartners chattering on about obama, how he won, how he got the most votes, how he's the man. when pressed they truthfully knew very little about what any of it meant, but they could feel the excitement in the air at their houses. they didn't know why, but they knew last night was big.

later in the day the first graders (who actually know about the election process and understand what's going on) chatted about their election day experiences. one little one (who is african american) described in detail what it was like when she went into the voting booth with her mom and her mom let her fill in the circle for barack obama. i can imagine the goosebumps this mom must have felt, allowing her six year old to fill in the circle to vote for an african american for president. this mom is fighting hard and is one of those parents i consider a hero. that moment of watching her daughter vote for an african american- can you think of a better wish she's ever had for her daughter? to grow up not questioning whether or not she can be president?

these are the first graders who were all born after 9/11. they don't know what it's like to live in our country and not be scared of horrible terrosts acts. yet now, they wont ever fully understand why this election was such a big deal. this belief, that anyone can be president, will follow them throughout life. when they're in their high school history classes they'll talk about what they were doing in first grade when the first african american was elected president. they'll know it was an important day, but wont fully know why. this is a generation who will grow up believing in the possibilities of life, instead of the limits.

i know we may not all agree on who should be our 44th president, but to take this moment and watch six year olds experience this event- goosebumps.

republican-mr. lipstick's friend charles mitchell wrote an incredible post today which i think sums up the meaning of this day for my kids, their parents, and our country.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


dilemmas, dilemmas

election night and i'm jittery with excitement (i can't help it, i get this way with every election). i don't think i'll be able to sleep 'til it's over.

of course, we have kindergarten fall fun day tomorrow, which will involve running around outside after the little ones on a treasure hunt for signs of fall.

and there is about a 95% chance the recess queen is going to have a new baby as of today, so he'll be off the wall more than usual, considering the fall fun day, the new baby, and a day off of school.

tomorrow will be a starbucks morning.

Monday, November 3, 2008

monday morning

put your hands behind your back.

i don't got any hands.

*** *** ***
we didn't celebrate halloween because we're with god.
did you go to church?
no, we... interupted by little boy on her right
i don't ever go to church
that's cause your not with god
i'm not with god (with dramatic disgust in voice) i'm with allah
hey! i'm with all-of god too.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

you want me to put my hand where?

halloween presents a wonderful opportunity in kindergarten for predicting what's inside things you can't see... and then proving it, and getting wonderfully messy in the process. one of my kiddos predicted there would be pumpkin pie inside the pumpkin. poor thing, i think he was a tad disappointed with what he saw.
everyone had the chance to stick their hands in and get gooey. we listed the words they came up to describe the ooze on a chart. the kids who wouldn't touch it amazed me. some of our most hands-on little boys had no desire to stick their hand into a big pumpkin full of guts. the little girls though didn't even wait to roll up their sleeves before sticking their hand into the pile of seeds. what i love about science in the early grades is that you get to watch as they experience the world around them.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

growing and changing

awhile ago we discovered one of our fabulous kiddos had an old iep file. we were surprised, but assumed that perhaps she had some mild early developmental delays she grew out of (she's in first grade now) so we flipped through it to discover that actually she'd been quite the proverbial holy terror.
nothing we were reading made any sense. the papers described angry, defiant, violent behavior but the little one in our class was one of the sweetest, most compliant kiddos in our community. how was it possible she had changed so much? we had to have the wrong file. or medication? perhaps she's heavily medicated now.
a check in with mom confirmed that yes, it was all true, but there was no medication she had just grown out of it.

what hope it gave to hear that with the right support these violent, defiant and angry kindergarten kiddos i'm working with this year can grow up to be compliant, happy, hard-working students. it's possible.

kids change drastically as they develop but i think that's something we tend to forget in school. we like answers and like firm definitions so we meet a kid and file away the information on him. "in kindergarten he bit the principal, his mom is a mess, he had to repeat kindergarten," so when he gets to first grade the teachers are ready. it's not out of hating kids that we do this, it's just that we like to know what's up inside their little heads, we like to be ready (and with some kids being ready is the best thing for them) but not for others. (once again, wouldn't life be easier if there was a formula we could follow for all kids?)
(i personally believe it's really important to know the background facts but be able to withhold judgement. i know there are many camps on this issue though)

as a classroom teacher i had a little girl who was known as "a mess" in kindergarten and preschool. by the end of the year i was pretty proud of myself. i had worked hard with her and you couldn't tell she did the crazy out-of-control things she had done in kindergarten. her kindergarten teacher shook her head and wondered "what could i have done better?"
the next year in second grade she had teachers who were fairly new to our school and hadn't known her crazy behavior in kindergarten. they hadn't seen how far she'd come, and wondered why i'd let her get away with everything i did. i watched her grow in there and wondered, just like her kindergarten teacher, "what could i have done better? i must have really screwed up if she is able to be this fabulous in 2nd grade"

but this little one kept changing and growing up. her kindergarten teacher did all the right things to make it so i could do all the right things, which let her second and third grade teachers do all the right things. if you'd told us when she was in kindergarten what she'd be like in 3rd grade we wouldn't have believed you.

it's hope for the kindergartners i work with now. they are not destined to a life of ignoring teachers and being violent. they'll grow up.

but it's also a reminder to me that we can't judge the teachers from the years before. it's so easy to see the change and think, "wow, there was no reason for him to be a mess last year!" when really the kiddo grew up, developmentally changed, and with the support of the teacher slowly turned into the fabulous kiddo in his new class.